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Bikers ride down Main Street during the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D., on Aug. 15. Health officials across five states have linked 178 virus cases to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Rumbles from the motorcycles and rock shows of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally have hardly cleared from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the reports of COVID-19 infections among rallygoers are already streaming in — 178 cases across five states, according to contact tracers.

In the three weeks since the rally kicked off, coronavirus cases in South Dakota have shot up at a startling pace — sixfold from the early days of August. While it is not clear how much rallygoers spread the virus through secondary infections, state health officials have so far reported 63 cases among South Dakota residents who attended the event.

The epicenter of the rally, Meade County, has become red-hot with new cases, reaching a per capita rate that is similar to the hardest-hit Southern states. The county reported the highest rate of cases in the state over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

The Black Hills region’s largest hospital system, Monument Health, warned Friday that it has seen hospitalizations from the virus rise from five to 78 this month. The hospital was bracing for more COVID-19 patients by converting rooms to intensive care units and reassigning staff.

Virus cases were already on the rise when the rally started, and it’s difficult to measure just how much the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is to blame in a region where local fairs, youth sports leagues and other gatherings have resumed.

However, Meade County could be a harbinger of things to come for the Upper Midwest as infections ripple from those events, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

“This coronavirus forest fire will keep burning any human wood it can find,” he said. “It will find you, and it’s so infectious.”

Health officials in North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin all reported cases among people who attended the rally, with North Dakota also reporting two hospitalizations.

A team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined last year’s rally looked like a “superspreader event.” The team said the event offered a lesson: Such large gatherings can result in “widespread transmission” of infections and attendees should follow precautions like getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing.

The aftermath of this year’s rally looks eerily similar to last year — when the event heralded a wave that did not subside until the winter.

But the pandemic fallout from the rally won’t be seen for weeks and an exact case count will likely remain unknown, Osterholm said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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(1) comment

Brent Blue

Less than 500 positive tests were attributed to last year Sturgis rally. Since 95% plus rally attendees were from out of the area, quoting local hospital numbers is irrelevant. Note that the report states two hospitalizations recorded from an event of over 600,000. Also note that no similar evaluation was made of the 600,000 person aviation event in Oshkosh Wisconsin during July.

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